Reagan and the environment
President-elect Reagan has said he likes the proposals on energy policy offered by advisers this week, and he will probably go along except for some possible adjustments in priorities. We hope that the qualification means he will give high priority to careful review of environmental regulations but not the weakening of them that has reportedly been recommended -- unless a review definitely warrants such weakening.
Increased energy should not be lightly bought at the expense of reduced pollution standards. It is in the realm of specified procedures for meeting high standards that there should be room for added flexibility to take account of industry problems and take advantage of industry innovations.
Only four percent of Americans think of themselves as unsympathetic to the environmental movement, according to a national survey announced last month. More than 40 percent consider environmental protection so important that "continuing improvement must be made regardlessm of cost." The survey was made not only for government environmental agencies but for the Departments of Agriculture and Energy. Despite its identification with the outgoing administration, Mr. Reagan cannot ignore such indications of American concern for preserving the environment and maintaining its safety for the public.
Behind him now are the off-the-cuff campaign remarks about pollution that brought ridicule from some. He has an opportunity to display his reasonableness in weighing supporters' environmental views, some of which have been used to foster alarm about him. He can show that no hidden agenda for reversing environmental progress lies behind such responsible words as these from the party platform he subscribes to: "Republicans believe that an effective balance between energy and environmental goals can be achieved. We can ensure that government requirements are firmly grounded on the best scientific evidence available, that they are enforced evenhandedly and predictably, and that the process of their development and enforcement has finality."
Pertinently enough, according to the recent survey, it is in regard to energy that Americans seem likely to support some sacrifice of environmental quality if to do so would ensure an adequate energy supply. Opinions appear to have shifted since a 1976 poll found a plurality favoring environmental protection over energy. A poll last year found 61 percent in favor of slowing down the movement to clean up air and water pollution if it could be shown "that the country could cope with its energy problem more effectively." At the same time there are majorities for concentrating on "benign" energy sources such as conservation and solar power.
Here is where careful review becomes important. How far can the genius of American industry provide both energy and environmental safety? How far can efficient use of energy and wise choice of energy sources reduce any need for sacrificing the environment?
It would be unfortunate if Mr. Reagan's belittling remarks about conservation were to prevail in national policy rather than the regard for conservation that he has also mentioned and that is more in keeping with his opposition to waste in other fields. As in the economy-environment equation, it is important to see the energy-environment equation as one in which both needs can benefit in the long run.